Rick Archer: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of conversations with spiritually awakening people about spiritual topics, consciousness, and the like. We’ve done about 630 of them now. If this is new to you, and you’d like to check out previous ones, please go to BatGap.com, B-A-T-G-A-P and look under the past interviews’ menu. This program is made possible through the support of appreciative listeners and viewers. If you appreciate it and would like to support it, there’s a PayPal button on every page of the website. There’s also a donation page that explains some alternatives to PayPal. My guest today is Edward F. Kelly. Edward is currently a professor in the Division of Perceptual Studies. DOPS is the acronym for that at the University of Virginia, where Bruce Greyson and Jim Tucker also work today. They’re in the same department I think, and I’ve interviewed both of them in the past year. He received his Ph.D. in Psycholinguistics and Cognitive Science from Harvard in 1971 and spent the next 15-plus years working mainly in parapsychology, initially at JB Rhine’s Institute for parapsychology, then for 10 years through the Department of Electrical Engineering at Duke and finally through a private research institute in Chapel Hill. Between 1988 and 2002, he worked with a large neuroscience group at UNC Chapel Hill mainly carrying out EEG and fMRI studies of human somatosensory cortical adaptation to natural tactile stimuli. He returned full time to Psychical Research in 2002, serving as lead author of Irreducible Mind, 2007, Beyond Physicalism, 2015, and Consciousness Unbound, 2021. All published by Rowman and Littlefield. He is now returning to his central long-term research interest, application of modern functional neuro imaging methods to intensive psycho physiological studies of psi, psychic phenomenon, and ASCs in exceptional subjects. I might as well start by asking you what ASCs are because I forget.
Ed Kelly: Altered states of consciousness,
Rick Archer: Altered states of consciousness. Okay, good. I said to you earlier, before we started that I’d start by asking you to give the elevator talk of what you’re all about. Did that little bio kind of cover it or is there something you want to add to that that’s of importance to start out with, which we’ll then unpack as we go along?
Ed Kelly: Well, that gets the gist of it. Let me just say that I first got started in this direction as a graduate student, when I first encountered the scientific literature on parapsychology, both the spontaneous cases and experimental studies. And I quickly realized that something was going on here, if it’s for real, that is not expected in light of our conventional ways of thinking about things. And to me, that made it interesting, you know, because it says, Hey, there’s opportunity for growth here. And so that’s why I started work right out of graduate school at the Rhine Parapsychology lab in Durham, North Carolina. But like most people who come into the field from a scientific point of view, I really kind of hoped at the time that, you know, there’d be some little adjustment to be made in our worldview somewhere that would allow it to accommodate this stuff, and everything would all fall naturally into place. And the entire history of my career has consisted in becoming less and less confident of that. In fact, I now think differently about psi phenomena. I mean, they’re certainly of interest in certain ways, but I now think their real importance is in pointing in the direction that we have to go theoretically. We need to overhaul our basic worldview while remaining in touch with science, but where I think we’re getting to is basically inverting that picture, like Mark Gober in his book that you mentioned. Yeah, Everything’s turning upside down. So I think what I’ve gotten to over the last 50 years is essentially the opposite of where I started, which was conventional physicalism. And I think once you abandon that – and you have to, because of phenomena such as psi phenomena – there’s really no safe stopping place short of what amounts to its opposite, some kind of an idealism, in which mind and consciousness are what’s really fundamental. That’s the long and short of it, anyway. Let me just wave my books around here, if I may.
Rick Archer: Sure. Yeah, wave. I’ll link to them also on your BatGap page.
Ed Kelly: There’s the first one, Irreducible Mind, which came out in 2007. Its subtitle is Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century. And in that one, we basically tried to assemble in one place a lot of the many kinds of evidence that are difficult or impossible to explain in conventional physicalist terms. We can go into this in more detail as we go along. The next one was our first attempt to get beyond just showing that physicalism is not so hot and trying to figure out what might take its place. And this one is called Beyond Physicalism: Toward Reconciliation of Science and Spirituality. There, we canvassed almost a dozen ancient and modern philosophical systems or conceptual frameworks that take seriously the kinds of phenomena that we had cataloged in Irreducible Mind and put forth some kind of a conceptual framework that might help us to understand them better. And then our most recent book, which came out last spring, is Consciousness Unbound: Liberating Mind from the Tyranny of Materialism. We’re starting to feel pretty confident about it all, you know, and we really wanted to stick a thumb in the eye of the physicalist opposition. That’s the reason for that carefully considered subtitle.
Rick Archer: In case people didn’t notice when you hold them up these books would make good doorstops. They’re quite voluminous. When you say we, in talking about them, you’re referring to a lot of collaborators who wrote various chapters, right?
Ed Kelly: Yeah, this began as a project initiated at Esalen by Mike Murphy, one of its co-founders. Mike is an extraordinary guy and a prodigious reader. He was well aware that if physicalism is correct, there cannot be any such thing as postmortem survival. But he was also aware that people here and there around the planet are actually doing research that purports to be generating evidence supportive of that possibility – for example, the work that my colleagues, Jim Tucker, and Bruce Grayson, do at DOPS. Jim works on cases of the reincarnation type, and Bruce mainly on near-death experiences. We’ll probably get back to the latter in particular a little bit later because I have a special interest there. Anyway, Mike convened a working group to examine the evidence for survival. He has a kind of Think Tank embedded within Esalen called the Center for Theory and Research. And there he can pursue his many personal intellectual interests with a special allowance that he gets for that purpose from Esalen. And he’s convened lots of these things over the years. But ours, it turns out, went on for about 20 years in the course of producing these three books. And the story there is basically, well, let me tell it, if I may. Let’s get down to the basics here. “Physicalism” – what is that? Well, that’s the name of a modern kind of ascetic, philosophical descendent of the materialism of previous centuries. We’re all familiar with this stuff. We grew up with it probably. Certainly, when I was in elementary and middle and high school and even college, this is what we were fed every day, and it was still going strong at the time I was in graduate school. It says basically that all facts are determined in the end by physical facts alone. And the reason for that is that reality consists at bottom of some kind of little self-existent non-sentient stuff flying around in fields of force, in accordance with mathematical laws. Everything else has to be built out of that elementary stuff, whatever it is. It used to be atoms, and then subatomic particles, and so on. One of the things we should note about this right away is that the physics on which physicalism is based is the classical physics of the late 19th century, and physicalism itself does not take into account the huge things that have happened in physics since that time. I mean, the foundations of physics have shifted dramatically over the past century, in ways that impact this conversation. Nevertheless, when I was in graduate school in psychology, pretty much everybody assumed that physicalism was more or less correct. And that among all the things that have to get manufactured out of the basic stuff, there’s our minds and consciousness, which must be manufactured somehow by physiological processes going on in our brains. The basic idea is that corresponding to every thought and so on, there’s some kind of a pattern of electrical activity in your brain that either accompanies that or is identical with it or generates it, or something of that sort. And there’s a huge literature on these things, widely viewed as supporting this sort of “production” model of the mind-brain connection. But let’s get right down to the basics of the situation: Everybody agrees that there are normally strong correlations between physical events in brains and events in mind and consciousness. So you know, if you get hit hard enough on the head, or ingest a psychedelic, or grow a certain kind of brain cancer or something, mental things change. So the physical causation of the mental is certainly a fact.
Ed Kelly: But now, what about causation in the other direction? I mean, I decided to raise my hand, and up it went – isn’t that mental causation? Naively, that’s what it seems to be. Well, the physicalist answer to that is that you simply misunderstood what’s really happening. That idea or intention that you formed to raise your hand, you see, is really nothing more than a pattern of physical activity in your brain. Physical causes physical, no problem. That’s very glib, but it’s also very hard to disprove. What we really had to do at the beginning of this project was to assemble in one place a lot of evidence demonstrating the existence of things that people can do, that cannot be explained by activity of the brain alone. Now, first and foremost on any list of that sort will be psychic phenomena. I mean, that’s what makes them interesting in the first place – that they seem, virtually by definition, to be beyond explanation by conventional means. Here a person is embedded in his world, and information comes in or goes out into the environment across some kind of a barrier such that if conventional ideas were correct, this just couldn’t happen. So for example, on an ESP test, the target is maybe in the next room, or it might be 5000 miles away, or up at the moon even, or it might not even have been selected yet, and might not get selected until tomorrow afternoon. And so there are what seemed to be decisive physical barriers there that should prevent success. And yet, people succeed in these tasks. And let me just say, without going further into it, that this is a big literature. I mean, there are hundreds of thousands of pages of reports of spontaneous cases, and reports of thousands of experiments carried out in conventional ways. And the collective impact of all that, in my estimation, is that you can just take it to the bank that these phenomena exist as facts of nature. And our science is going to have to expand somehow to let us understand them, explain how they can happen. Postmortem survival, let me just mention in passing, is kind of a special sub-problem within that general field. Within the field, an argument has been going on for 150 years or so now, as to whether there really is post-mortem survival, or whether instead all the apparent evidence for survival might be explained by psi-type interactions among only living persons, or between such persons and their environments. That’s a long story, and we don’t need to go into it here, mercifully, because the plain fact is that both horns of that dilemma are equally fatal to conventional physicalism. So we don’t have to have an answer to that question, fortunately. It’s remarkable, in that you’ve got very well-informed smart people on both sides of that issue. I personally lean toward survival at this point, partly because of our work on Irreducible Mind. And I’ll try to get back to that in a moment.
Rick Archer: By post-mortem survival, you mean reincarnation, for instance, or perhaps near-death experiences where a person is under deep anesthesia, and yet they’re watching the operating room from the ceiling or something and obviously, that shouldn’t be able to happen, but there’s a lot of evidence for that. Any other examples of post-mortem?
Ed Kelly: Postmortem survival basically means persistence, in some unknown form and for some unknown period of time, of mind and consciousness and personality, after the death of the body. Other kinds of evidence include things like crisis apparitions. In the old days, for example, a guy might be over in India, in the British Army, and his sister back home would hear him come into the kitchen, as she’s busy doing something. She turns around and looks at him, and he seems to be really there, a full-fledged, solid, three-dimensional person with a wound in his head, and then he suddenly disappears, maybe passing through the wall or something of that sort. And then two weeks later, you know, the letter or telegram or something comes from India, confirming the fact that he was killed in that way. Then there’s all the literature of mediumship, some of which I have to tell you is really quite hair-raising. For example, William James – one of my heroes in the world of psychology, the American psychologist and philosopher – encountered a woman named Mrs. Piper near the end of the 19th century who was one of the great classical mediums. James quickly became convinced that she somehow had access to information about his family that she had no normal way of having acquired. He and others worked with her for many years. And in his last published report, he reiterated that Mrs. Piper had convinced him beyond all doubt that what we now call psi phenomena really do occur. She was what he called his “one white crow”. If you have a proposition that all crows are black, the existence of a single white crow is sufficient to refute that proposition. And she played that role for him in regard to ESP. But, you know, a lot of psychologists and neuroscientists and probably even philosophers of mind still like to think that this parapsychology stuff is just one little sort of peculiar anomaly. Maybe we can just kind of put it in the corner, you know, isolate it, quarantine it, and everything else will be okay. Well, the rest of Irreducible Mind went toward making clear that there are lots of other things that are about equally troublesome for conventional physicalism. So for example, we’ve got chapters on things like some of the special properties of human memory, and a big chapter by my wife, Emily on extreme examples of psychophysical influence. These include things like stigmata, in which people who are intense believers in Christianity are imagining the crucifixion and develop wounds corresponding to what they believe were the wounds actually inflicted on Jesus. They also include things like hypnotic blisters of a specific shape. Pierre Janet, for example, would touch a patient with a poker that was actually cold but terminated in a star shape, saying that, okay, I’m going to burn you now with this hot poker. It touches the skin, and lo and behold, a star-shaped blister appears. Now, we know how a star-shaped blister would appear if the poker were actually red hot, but not how it could work in the other direction – that is, how having an image of a red-hot poker can cause a correspondingly shaped blister to arise. And there are a bunch of other phenomena of that sort. Extreme resistance to pain for example, in surgeries conducted in India under hypnosis. We can return to any of these things that listeners want to hear more about.
Rick Archer: Some of these as you’re mentioning them sound to me like things physicalists could dismiss as being physical such as the poker thing because you don’t need to believe in transcendent consciousness or mind or anything. You can just think that, well, it’s some kind of psychosomatic suggestion thing that the brain does and causes that effect on the skin. But others that you’ve mentioned, couldn’t be explained or away so easily.
Ed Kelly: Emily lines them up in order from the most general and potentially subject to that kind of explanation to ones that strain it increasingly as they become more specific and extreme and character. Let me go back to the pain thing for a moment. Esdaile Dale reports of one of his Indian patients something like “I inserted the knife at the corner of his mouth, drew it to his ear and thence across to the eye, and peeled back the skin, releasing a great quantity of pus”. It goes on and on like this for a few revolting paragraphs and then ends with a comment that the patient occasionally made a slight moan.
Rick Archer: He was doing legitimate surgery.
Ed Kelly: Yes, actual surgery, in the era just prior to the advent of chemical anesthesia. And he did hundreds of these things. And we give reasons why it’s not plausible to believe that a conventional physicalist explanation is available for how these things can work.
Rick Archer: I saw an article not too long ago about a young girl who for some reason, couldn’t feel pain. She was born without that capability. They had to be very careful because she was always injuring herself because she didn’t know she was injuring. Someone might argue that, well, maybe if there could be a permanent condition like that a temporary condition could also kick in for ordinary people.
Ed Kelly: Well, I think it would be easily possible to rule that out.
Rick Archer: I’m just playing devil’s advocate a little bit.
Ed Kelly: That’s certainly fair. So far we’ve been talking about responses to strong stimuli such as surgeries, but it gets more complicated when the effect of a vivid imagination is not on one’s own body, but somebody else’s.
Rick Archer: There you go.
Ed Kelly: There’s a whole class of cases called “maternal impression” cases. There’s something on the order of 100 of these and Ian Stevenson documented a bunch of them in his book Reincarnation and Biology. And these are mainly cases in which a pregnant woman experiences some ghastly scenario, you know, that totally horrifies her, and then her child is born some months later with a corresponding defect. Seeing, a limb amputated, for example, or something of that sort. A particularly interesting feature is that many such cases were reported in the 19th century when physicians and neuroscientists believed that the fetus was sort of continuous with the mother. As it became clear that the fetus is really quite independent of the mother, the frequency of these reports started to go down, even though there are a few even from well into the 20th century. This is an example, you see, of how what’s regarded as correct, theoretically, shapes what people are able to study and report in the scientific literature. Anyway, let’s go on a bit further into Irreducible Mind. The next chapter was about out-of-body and near-death experiences. And there, let me just say, probably adding to what you’ve already heard from, from Bruce Greyson, that the most interesting class of cases, for me, is those of the type you mentioned earlier – specifically, those occurring under extreme physiological conditions such as deep general anesthesia and/or cardiac arrest. And the reason is that in these cases – well, let me go back a step. There is a very strong consensus in contemporary neuroscience as to what the necessary conditions are for having any kind of conscious experience. They involve, in particular, having a brain that at the moment is capable of generating neuroelectric rhythms (you know, brainwaves) in the, say, eight to 50 or 60 Hertz range, and coordinating those over large territories of the brain. But those conditions are specifically abolished both by general anesthesia and by cardiac arrest, especially in cardiac arrest, which is an absolutely brutal physiological event. The EEG flatlines within 20 or 30 seconds of arrest, and not long after that neurons become unable to fire which is the ultimate physical basis for any kind of communication among areas of the brain. And yet people are not only having experiences but having the most intense and transformative experiences of their lives. How do we know that? Because they report things that go on during the time of apparent unconsciousness. There are a number of cases of this sort. You’ve probably heard about Eben Alexander?
Rick Archer: Yes, I’ve interviewed him. I’ve interviewed at least a dozen people who’ve had this kind of experience.
Ed Kelly: Pam Reynolds is another good case of that sort. And Anita Moorjani. That sort. Physicalists routinely attempt to evade the force of this argument, but it really holds together, in my opinion, I’ve seen nothing to contradict it. And what it shows is that not only consciousness but quite extreme forms of consciousness are possible under conditions where virtually all neuroscientists don’t think anything of that sort could possibly happen. Let me just add here that I personally guess that this will become the area of Psychical Research that finally breaks down the resistance of the scientific establishment to the kind of post-physicalist picture that we’re putting forward here. The idea that consciousness can operate separately from the brain. And this is a big part of why I personally have been moved in the direction of accepting the reality of survival as well as psi phenomena. Well, let me go on to some additional chapters in Irreducible Mind. One is about genius, or extreme forms of creativity. This is a subject, of course, that has received a fair amount of attention from psychologists – not nearly as much as it should, in my opinion, and not the kind of attention it really needs, but at least there has been some. And yet, if you look around, you find cases, for example of the sort of the Indian mathematician Ramanujan, the properties of which just totally beggar the conceptual apparatus available to psychology at present to try to understand. I mean, this guy was just off the charts. Fantastic stuff going on with him all the time. Regrettably, his mentor Hardy, the British mathematician, was not at all interested in these things. He was the master of proof, whereas Ramanujan himself was the apotheosis of creative discovery.
Rick Archer: I just want to interject here that he lived a normal life and just was gifted with these capabilities. But there have been people who have had brain injuries, for instance, who suddenly acquired the ability to be an improvisational jazz pianist or something who had never studied piano. I mean things like that happen, right?
Ed Kelly: Yeah, there are lots of those things, and we touch upon some of them. Another interesting one is savant syndrome.
Rick Archer: Like Rain Man, that kind of thing?
Ed Kelly: Let me just tell you about one that I found especially startling. It comes from Oliver Sacks in his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. He’s got a chapter in that book called The Twins, about autistic savants. These were two kids, twins, who could not add and subtract single-digit numbers reliably, okay? Against that background, he’s chatting with them one day, and he knocks a big box of stick matches on the floor. And the two of them instantly said 111. 37 37 37. So, at the moment, you know, he took the trouble to count the matches, and there were 111 of them. But it was only later on, that he caught on to what the 37 37 37 was about, which was that they had factored that number into the product of two prime numbers, 3 and 37. And that led him to inquire as to their facility with prime numbers. He got a big book, a table of prime numbers, and he started this game with them where there they would exchange prime numbers. And to his amazement, they gave bigger and bigger ones. They quickly exhausted his table, which only went out to around 12 digits or something like that. And eventually, these kids, these little kids who couldn’t add and subtract single-digit numbers, were producing prime numbers of up to 20 digits, sizes that we need supercomputers to calculate. So that’s pretty astonishing. And more generally, I think what is totally unexplainable in conventional terms is the kind of speed, precision, complexity, and vividness of the kinds of experience that commonly accompany high forms of genius. And there’s a vast literature about these things, the experiences that various acknowledged historical geniuses had in the course of producing some of their great works of art or music or whatever.
Rick Archer: Now in this area, a physicalist might say, okay, the brain has marvelous capabilities. Isn’t that great? And maybe, somehow these savants and so on are people who’ve had certain brain injuries. Those capabilities get unlocked in some way we don’t understand. But that doesn’t imply any kind of transcendent consciousness or mind independent of the body. But I think you would probably say, and I would too that, the brain is more of a filter of consciousness than a creator of it, and that certain conditions can cause its filtering ability to diminish, and then all kinds of things can come through and begin to be experienced, which ordinarily can’t be.
Ed Kelly: Yeah, that’s exactly the way we take it. And we also point out that the only semi-plausible physicalist explanation for some of this stuff requires something that almost certainly does not happen. There’s a, there’s a lot of theory about the brain as a computer and that sort of thing. And the basic story is, the only way you can get more logical depth and precision out of the brain is to use more of it for any particular task. But we don’t actually see that in cases where these sorts of things are going on. The idea is that a savant, one of the twins for example, must be using virtually all of his brain to calculate these enormous prime numbers. But there are also historical cases of geniuses who were calculation prodigies and polymaths and yet fully functioning human beings in all other regards. The attempt to interpret savants as people who for some reason have all their brains focused on doing just one or two things won’t work in this larger context. Okay. Anyway, leaving that aside, you’re correct. In fact, let me just say one more thing by way of background. The model for Irreducible Mind is a book that was published in 1903 by F. W. H. Myers, one of the founders in 1882 of the Society for Psychical Research. It was called Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, and if he hadn’t included that “and its survival of bodily death”, I think it would be more widely recognized as a great classic of psychology. I mean, this guy was a bona fide genius, and his book is extraordinary.
Ed Kelly: I forgot for a moment why I brought that up. But what we were really doing in the work on Irreducible Mind, was attempting to revisit Myers, and his theory of personality, in the light of a subsequent century of research on a number of the topics that he himself had studied and examined in his book. So we used his procedures as a kind of a model for the way we approached things. Now, the last topically oriented, or substantively oriented chapter in IM is on mystical experience. And let me just say, for starters, that if creativity has been somewhat neglected by contemporary science, that neglect is a whole lot worse for the subject of mystical experience. Let me also just add to the previous discussion of NDEs occurring under extreme conditions, parenthetically, that in such cases people are frequently having genuine mystical experiences, but under suboptimal conditions where you almost have to die in order to have the experience! Clearly, we’d like to find better ways of having lots more people have such experiences, because of the remarkably positive transformative impact that NDEs have on lots of people. And that’s true of mystical experiences in general. They both have the characteristic that things go on that are ineffable in the sense that people can’t even describe exactly what happened because it was so enormous and complex in its way. And, of course, there there’s a huge literature on this stuff. It’s been ignored by contemporary science, basically, because of its obvious association with religion. For many scientists, the subject is just so terrifying that they can’t take mystical experiences seriously, I think it’s a horrible gap in contemporary science. And if our work does nothing other than encourage more scientists to take the subject seriously, I think we’ll have done something worthwhile. And there’s a lot of overlap, by the way, among the key phenomena. For example, there’s a lot in the literature of mysticism showing that people who have such experiences also start reporting all kinds of psi-like events going on, either immediately after or even during them. I knew one guy, I met him when I was working at the Rhine center, who had had had a very stereotypical kind of Kundalini experience, a spontaneous thing in the shower one morning. He said he’d always been a slow reader, but for the next six months, he could read books by sort of glancing down the left page, and then glancing up the right and somehow taking the whole thing in. And then that gradually faded away. He’s never had another such experience, as far as I know, but it opened him up in a way to these higher possibilities. So now, in the last chapter of Irreducible Mind, we took a first crack at theory, trying to ask in effect what kind of alternatives to physicalism might enable us to understand some of these things. And we sketched a range of alternatives, from a sort of improved version of dualism at one end, to some kind of idealistic philosophy at the other. For the latter, the one we settled on, because it was very prominent at Esalen generally at that time, and we had a number of members in our group who had deep interest in it (including, by the way, some quantum physicists) was Alfred North Whitehead’s late metaphysics, process philosophy. So the last chapter of Irreducible Mind describes both of these in some depth, and I think shows clearly that possibilities are on offer which can do better than conventional physicalism at attempting to explain our exceptional phenomena, and which are in fact more consistent than physicalism itself with real modern physics. I firmly believe we succeeded in that. Now, for me as a psychologist, the main impact of Irreducible Mind was to vindicate Myers and the Myers/James picture of mind as somehow different from brain.
Ed Kelly: They clearly work together very closely under normal conditions. But the better way of explaining the correlations is, Rick, as you said a few moments ago, to think of the brain as a “filter” or receiver, i.e. that conditions in the brain permit expression of a mind and consciousness which exists in some way separate from it. I’m now going to have to get ahead of myself a little bit here. The next book, Beyond Physicalism, took us a lot further in that direction. There we canvassed a whole mob of additional conceptual frameworks or theories or mystically informed religious philosophies that similarly set forth a conceptual framework that might allow us to understand things better, and that took seriously the existence of various of the key phenomena. And the key phenomena, going forward, are really psi phenomena, number one; genius, number two; and mystical experience, number three. Those are the things we really want to understand. And clearly, having real understanding of a sort that might enable improved access to these things is something that could potentially be very good for human beings both individually and collectively. I think you and I probably share the sense that a lot of the horrible and rapidly worsening problems of our civilization and our planet are ultimately traceable to this kind of physicalist worldview that drives so much of contemporary society – you know, our consumption-oriented and exploitative economic system, and all that kind of stuff. But getting back to Myers and James, that filter or transmission picture, you see, removes what for me was the final logical obstacle to the possibility of postmortem survival. If it’s true that mind and consciousness are products of brain activity, then there cannot be anything like post-mortem survival, period. But if their alternative picture is correct, that the correlations are accounted for by this working together under normal conditions, then the logical obstacle is removed, and the survival possibility needs to be evaluated in terms of the positive evidence for it. And I have to say, again, there’s a lot of such evidence, some of it of very high quality. Nobody is really entitled to express a negative opinion about the subject who hasn’t taken the trouble to study that evidence in some depth. Getting back to Beyond Physicalism, there we touched upon some of the traditional mystically informed religious philosophies including for example Neo-Platonism, which (apart from its bizarre cosmology and physics and so on) is an extremely sophisticated psychological system and philosophy, a metaphysics. We also have a chapter on Patanjali and Yoga, as well as one on Abhinavagupta and Kashmiri Shaivism, which seems to at least some people to be the highest development of the whole Indian philosophical tradition. We also had several chapters by physicists including both quantum theorists and a cosmologist with a background in relativity and string theory. One of our physicists takes a special interest in the long interaction between Cark Gustav Jung and Wolfgang Pauli, who as you probably know was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, one of the early people in quantum theory and so on, but who also was a seriously disturbed person who was a patient of one of Jung’s students. They had an enormous working interaction over decades, producing a voluminous correspondence and several important joint publications. Anyway, our colleague Harald Atmanspacher, who’s a theoretical physicist, takes special interest in that collaboration and has a chapter about it in our book. We also touched upon several other representatives of the modern Western philosophical tradition, including Leibniz, Charles Sanders Peirce, and Whitehead once again. And finally, in the last part of that book, we tried to pull it all together, to figure out what it all adds up to, by trying to identify the common or central tendencies of the frameworks examined.
Ed Kelly: In brief, we argued that they are all headed in the same general direction. This really reverts, I should say, to William James, who in his chapter on mysticism in The Varieties of Religious Experience says flat out that this is the chapter from which all others derive their light. And in that chapter, he asserts, not uncontroversially, that the general tendency of all of the things that he’s talked about in the chapter is toward some kind of idealistic metaphysics, one in which mind and consciousness become foundational constituents of reality. In chapter 14 of Beyond Physicalism, I trace James’s late philosophical trajectory, which deserves to be more widely known and appreciated. In 1897 he gave the Ingersoll lecture at Harvard, and this is where he formally introduced the idea of the so-called filter or transmission theory. He did that in pretty much the same kind of psychological terms that I used earlier. But he also has a long footnote in which he says, Well, you know, I’ve been speaking here from the conventional sort of dualistic standpoint in which there are minds and bodies, separate “substances”, but I also begin to see possibilities for going beyond that to a more radical kind of metaphysics in which there is really just one underlying stuff of some sort. Then comes VRE, based on his Gifford lectures of 1902, followed by his late metaphysical work, consisting chiefly of the Essays in Radical Empiricism and a 1909 book titled A Pluralistic Universe. James died in 1910. It’s that latter book that I particularly keyed in on in chapter 14 of Beyond Physicalism because there he essentially elaborated on the model that he had used earlier in Varieties of Religious Experience. He says there very clearly, by the way, and in several places, that he is using the psychological model of F. W. H. Myers to explain all these different religious phenomena. This is probably the best-selling psychology book of all time, but hardly anybody even notices that anymore. The key thing for James about Myers was that Myers had specifically argued that our everyday consciousness is not all the consciousness there is within us. That consciousness is embedded within a larger and more capable consciousness, Myers argued, possessing what he calls “adits and operations” of its own that can explain phenomena such as psi, genius and mystical experience. James uses it to explain the various phenomena of religious life that he examines in VRE, but in this later book, he carries it much further. His starting point is Myers’s empirical demonstration that higher integrations of consciousness can be associated with a single organism. I’m suddenly realizing here, by the way, that I left out a chapter of Irreducible Mind that is particularly relevant in this context, so let me briefly describe that. It’s our chapter on psychological automatisms and secondary centers of consciousness, written by a guy named Adam Crabtree who has a long history of involvement with that particular subject.
Ed Kelly: Adam is a therapist who deals with multiple personality patients, that sort of thing. There are a number of cases in that literature which show clearly – and this is the main kind of evidence that James himself relied upon, along with mystical experience – that in some cases there is not only the everyday personality A but one or more hidden personalities, let’s say just one personality B such that B is aware of most of what goes on in A but not vice versa. Furthermore, B may be a lot more competent person than A, and A and B can operate concurrently. B can sometimes report things that are going on in A, while A has no idea that B even exists. All these things are extremely difficult to reconcile with a conventional brain-theoretic approach to the mind, or personality. James builds on that picture in A Pluralistic Universe. He reviews a number of theories such as that of Gustav Fechner. Fechner is a fantastic character in the history of psychology, mainly known now for inventing the field of psychophysics, but he was also a physicist who had mystical experiences of his own that profoundly shaped his view of how reality must be put together. Following Fechner’s lead, James imagines a hierarchy of progressively comprehensive integrations of consciousness. I should say that James was mainly talking in response to people like Bradley and his own colleague Royce, along with other idealists of the late 19th and early 20th century, when idealism was still the reigning metaphysical doctrine but about to be pushed aside by the ascendant physicalism of people like Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore. But there are things about idealism that James really doesn’t like. He doesn’t like there being a highest integration that knows everything, because if it knows and accounts for everything then it’s also responsible for evil and James doesn’t want that responsibility for his idea of a God. He wants it to be way, way above us, but incomplete itself and having some kind of a growing edge or environment that can help deal with that theodicy problem, among other things. He wants that highest integration to be more like us so that we can have a kind of personal intimacy with it. I commend that book to you. It’s a wonderful book, published the year before he died. In any case, relying on that book, and bringing to bear all the various positions that we canvassed in Beyond Physicalism, we arrived at a pretty clear-cut central theoretical tendency, which amounts to what is called evolutionary pantheism. Now, for those who are unfamiliar with this theological talk, and I certainly am not a professional theologian, the basic idea is this: In traditional theism, as in the Abrahamic faiths, you have a God who sort of gets everything going, creates everything and then stands apart from it but might intervene, either regularly or occasionally. Pantheism, historically, was the main competitor, in which God is identified with the world. Panentheism tries to split the difference and is intermediate between those two in the sense that, yes, God – which it takes as some kind of super-consciousness – is present in all things, but there’s something left over, more or less in the same relationship to manifest creation as we are in relation to our bodies. Our agreement on this kind of picture was certainly not unanimous, but it’s definitely the majority view among the members of our Esalen group, Sursem (from “survival seminar”, the name of the group that Mike Murphy convened back in 1998). I should add here that these 3 books are really the collective product of all the people who have been associated with that group over the past 20+ years. I took the lead as a writer and editor and so on, but there have been something on the order of about 50 people from various disciplines, including psychology, neuroscience, philosophy of mind, psychiatry, history of science, and physics who have contributed in a multitude of ways. So it’s an extremely diverse group.
Ed Kelly: One of the kinds of problems that we had to overcome going along was learning how to talk to each other, given that we inhabit such divergent conceptual worlds. But we succeeded in that, I think, to a considerable degree. These books are not like typical edited books in which you find uncoordinated statements from people who don’t seem to have had anything to do with each other. They’re more compounds than aggregates, so to speak, and I’m proud of that. Now, our most recent book, Consciousness Unbound, continues the main themes of both previous ones. So it’s got empirical chapters, one on rebirth cases by Jim Tucker, one on NDEs by Bruce Greyson, and one by a guy named Bob Rosenberg on precognition, which of all psi phenomena is the one most likely to tie people in philosophical knots because of its connection with issues such as time, determinism, and free will. Then it’s got five additional theory chapters, either updates of previously visited conceptual frameworks or whole new ones, several written by new members of our cast of characters. Max Velmans for example is a very well-known figure in the world of consciousness studies. A guy I’m especially interested in, I must say, is Federico Faggin; you may have heard of him?
Rick Archer: I was just listening to him this morning, on one of those Galileo commission webinars that you were part of.
Ed Kelly: Yeah, Federico, of course, is one of the major pioneers of contemporary microelectronics, starting back in the 1960s, and 70s. But he also began having profound mystical experiences about 30 years ago. He was trained as a physicist, of course, and believed what he’s been taught for most of his adult life, but those powerful experiences convinced him that physics itself needs to be rebuilt from the ground up in a way that incorporates consciousness at a fundamental level. So he’s got a chapter in our book devoted to that. He’s working now with an Italian theoretical physicist named D’Ariano. Developing the model they have, they’re working on a joint model now which combines Federico’s ideas about the primacy of consciousness with D’Ariano’s ideas about how you can derive both quantum theory and classical physics from even more fundamental informational type principles. This is deep stuff and I can’t pretend to understand it very well, but if they succeed they will essentially drain physics of its traditional “physical” content in favor of a thoroughgoing idealism. I think that’s the nature of the game, basically. And these are two seriously high-powered dudes. So, keep an eye out on that front! Another new person is Jung scholar Roderick Main, and to introduce him let me go back for a moment to Irreducible Mind. One of the things that we had noted in chapter 8 on mystical experience is that Myers’s theory is structurally very much like the personality theory of Carl Jung, except for the fact that Jung’s Self, unlike Myers’s larger self, is relentlessly unconscious. The larger self plays a similar role in the two theories, but whereas Myers’s dynamic “unconscious” is actually a larger consciousness to which the everyday consciousness doesn’t normally have access, for Jung, the unconscious really is dark and unconscious. So he talks about mystical experience in terms of the regular consciousness being flooded with this dark stuff and growing dim and all that, which is a grossly inappropriate description of what actually goes on in mystical experience. Whereas in Myers’s theory, and the kind of theory that we elaborate in Beyond Physicalism, it’s perfectly natural for consciousness to expand and become more intense in the ways that people who have these experiences describe. So that’s good, I think, for our point of view. Anyway, there’s a chapter by Roderick in Consciousness Unbound which bears down on that difference between Myers and Jung and finds that Jung, in his latest work following his own near-death experience, was moving very clearly in the direction of the Myers/James picture, and in effect toward evolutionary panentheism as his final metaphysical position. So that’s another contribution. Then there’s a man named Bernardo Kastrup, another very interesting guy, a computer engineer by training who also worked at CERN and is a very high-level guy. Bernardo, like Federico Faggin, had a series of powerful mystical experiences which led him to get to rethink things from the ground up. And he’s basically now pursuing this full-time, having abandoned his engineering career. An enormously productive guy who’s written a bunch of very interesting books about why idealism is preferable to physicalism. Why Materialism is Baloney was one of the first. He writes very well and has a compact description of his own position, analytic idealism, in our book too.
So, that’s the basic story of what we’ve accomplished over the last 20 odd years. And I do see signs in the larger academic world of increasing dissatisfaction with physicalism. Harald Atmanspacher, for example, and a philosophical acquaintance of his, go to lots of philosophy of mind meetings, and they report that in that world, particularly in the younger members of the philosophy of mind community, people are really more interested now in finding alternatives to physicalism than in fighting battles about it.
Ed Kelly: And even in neuroscience we’ve seen the emergence of Integrated Information Theory as championed by Christof Koch, the main disciple of Francis Crick. In his books promoting IIT, Koch has come right out and adopted a somewhat limited panpsychism in which consciousness is fundamental. It’s a property of the universe as fundamental as spin and charge and mass and stuff like that. So change is really in the air, I think, for the first time in my career. I’m always a little guarded about these kinds of things. William James himself said back in 1890- something that the scientific world would have to take pay attention to these things, and conversations about philosophy of mind could no longer be the same, and yet they stayed the same for another century. So it’s a little hard to read these changes in the zeitgeist. An inflection point in intellectual history isn’t as sharply defined as one in a mathematical function. And this inflection point has been spread out over decades. But I really do have the sense that the culture is changing, something’s in the wind, that more scientists, I think, are starting to realize that they need to take seriously some of these rogue phenomena that challenge the prevailing physicalist viewpoint. It has plenty of cultural defenders, however, and certainly the availability of a better worldview doesn’t imply either that it will become generally accepted, or that If accepted it will be utilized in anything like an optimum way. So my net sense is that good things are in the works, but there’s a long road to travel still.
Rick Archer: Wow. Well, that was a great overview. That was probably the least amount that I’ve talked during at least the first hour interview I’ve ever done. But you were saying such great stuff. I just didn’t want to trip you up. It was such a wonderful synopsis of all of your work. If anyone followed all that, I think they would learn a lot and it would give them a lot of breadcrumbs to follow, in order to find out a heck of a lot more about these things.
Ed Kelly: Yeah, the really basic thing here is that, for people who are interested in personal transformation, there is now a serious scientific foundation for what you’re trying to do. And it’s going to get stronger, because, for example, meditation is now a subject of real scientific interest. It’s really kind of peculiar the way it’s evolved so far, because meditation research has legitimized itself, you know, by coupling itself to public health, and thereby accessing the conventional funding mechanisms for biomedical research. A lot of the stuff that’s been done so far, quite frankly, is pretty low-level, uninteresting stuff. Mike Murphy jokes about meditation for hemorrhoids that sort of thing. But it is inevitable, in my opinion, that we are going to come into contact with the deeper regions of the subject. And that’s when things will really get interesting. There’s already been some interesting work, for example, the work by Richie Davidson and company at Wisconsin doing neuroimaging studies with these super-duper Buddhist meditators. I hope there will be a lot more work of that sort. And I think it’s already shown things that are surprising to neuroscientists. So there’s plenty to learn there. And it could be very practically useful to people who are, you know, getting interested in meditation and interested in self-transformation. The other big area to watch, by the way, is psychedelic research. Psychedelic neuroimaging research is well underway. It’s certainly still very early stage, but it’s already shown things that are really shocking to neuroscientists. There were a bunch of studies back in the 90s, using psilocybin given orally and using PET (Positron Emission Tomography) as the imaging technology, that basically seemed to confirm what most people expected. That if you’re having these intense psychological states, there must be something unusually intense physiologically going on. And those early studies seemed to support that there was a lot of activity, excess activity in a bunch of areas including frontal cortical areas. However, in 2012 a study appeared by a group in England, which used injected psilocybin together with two kinds of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), which has much better temporal and spatial resolution than PET. And the results of that study just flabbergasted people, because there were no increases in activity anywhere in the brain. Instead, they saw lots of decreases, especially in a very interesting component of the brain, called the default mode network, which has come to be viewed as the neural instantiation of your everyday self or ego. And basically, in this study – and it’s been confirmed by a number of subsequent studies – that neural system basically got taken apart, with reduced activity and reduced coupling among the major nodes of that system. The size of those effects also correlated with the subjective intensity of the experience. And that you see is very consistent with the kind of “filter” picture we talked about earlier, where you do something (whatever it is, and there may be many ways to do these things) such that conditions occur in the brain which allow these higher states to penetrate into everyday consciousness. We can learn lots more about those conditions using normal scientific methods.
Rick Archer: The filtering idea that, and what you’re saying is that there was a reduction of activity in the default mode network, which means the attenuation of ego perhaps, which all the spiritual traditions talk about and that allowed a much greater expansion of consciousness than would otherwise have been taking place.
Ed Kelly: So meditation and psychedelic research, I think, are going to carry us in the direction of experimental study of mystical states, and lead to improved ways of inducing or stabilizing them.
Rick Archer: Of course, such research has been going on for 50 years. Some of it is crap, like you said, but a lot of it is very significant and more and more and more has been accumulating over these decades. There’s obviously something going on. I mean, one thing that comes to mind as you speak of all this is that the only way a person could adamantly deny the kinds of things you’re talking about is if they had simply not looked at the research. The Galileo commission is so named because Galileo’s contemporaries refused to look through his telescope because what he claimed he was seeing clashed with their religious worldview. I was kind of also thinking of Thomas Kuhns book as you were talking, you know, Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I don’t know if he said this because it was decades ago that I read it, but it seems to me that the more fundamental a paradigm, the more deep a paradigm or well entrenched, the greater the anomalies it would take to shake it and eventually usurp it. The physicalism paradigm is very fundamental in our culture and has been for a long time. So, by rights, it should have already been seriously shaken if not overturn given all the evidence that you just outlined, but it hasn’t been. Maybe it’s shaking, but as you’ve just said, it was Max Planck, who said that science progresses through a series of funerals and so it was encouraging that you said that a lot of younger people are not buying into that physicalist paradigm anymore and are open to exploring these things, and perhaps even within our lifetimes, it’ll flip.
Ed Kelly: Maybe, yeah, I certainly hope so. I think we’re in a race against time, basically, to change our worldview and change our ways of doing things culturally, or we’re going to destroy ourselves.
Rick Archer: Yeah, now that might not be obvious to people. I feel very strongly that also. We have so many problems in the world. We hear about them in the news and climate change and so many other things. There are any number of things which could do us in. I don’t think most people have ever pondered the connection between those and the kinds of things you’ve been discussing. They might consider it a bit of a stretch to suggest that if we begin to explore consciousness, then somehow the climate situation will be resolved or all these other problems. How would you explain the causal connection there, if there is one?
Ed Kelly: Yeah. I hesitate to get into this area because I’m certainly no cultural historian or anything like that. There are a bunch of books out there that explore these themes, though. I’ve got a list of such things somewhere, so I could maybe send you that. But to take one example that’s fundamental to the spiritual traditions, if physicalism is true, and we’re encased in our skulls, and there’s no other connection among us other than what we can effect in ordinary conversation and physical interactions and so on, then it’s hard to establish any kind of community-oriented ethics or ethos. But if the alternative spiritual view of things is correct, and that we are all ultimately connected at this most fundamental level of a great consciousness from which we all emerge, then in harming you I’m harming myself. Something like the Golden Rule just emerges naturally from that sort of cosmology. So imagine if it could be scientifically established. I think we’re actually quite close to doing that. It’s a better picture of how things really are. Maybe we would treat each other better in light of that knowledge, and want to treat the planet better too, knowing that we’re all just passengers on this thing. We know a lot more about our ship now, from the vantage point of space, and maybe that kind of planet-friendly ethos can really take hold and become effective in people’s lives.
Rick Archer: Another way of thinking about it is we could consider pretty much everything that we see in the world as a creation or reflection or manifestation of human influence and human effort. It’s fair to say I think that the quality of the world, politics, economics, environment, health, so many different things. Is a simple reflection of the predominant mindset of humanity, which in itself is a collection of all the individual mindsets of humanity. A simple analogy, if a forest looks like it’s pretty much gray and dead, it’s because every individual tree is, and you can’t really make the forest healthy without somehow making each individual tree healthy. Then when you do that, then overall the forest will begin to appear healthy. Somehow or other enough individual human beings if their consciousness begins to awaken or enliven, there will be a more collective awakening and not just because of the individual numbers showing up as the case would be with trees. I think because, and I’ve heard you talking about this, or one of your writers talked about this in one of your books, that the deeper you go, the more collective consciousness becomes. So as with waves you go down to the root of the wave and it’s all one ocean, all the individual waves are expressions of it. I think that there’s something to the idea that as individual consciousness develops, that doesn’t just benefit the individuals, but it enriches the whole field, or to use the forest analogy it makes the ground of the forest more fertile for all the trees.
Ed Kelly: That’s certainly the hope. I’m limited by background and temperament to doing the kind of stuff that I do, but I feel that there’s a lot there and I would really like to somehow energize further work along those lines to draw out these kinds of connections and make them palatable and convincing to people.
Rick Archer: All right, let me ask you a couple of questions that have come in from guests. First, here’s one from my good friend Curtis Mayou. He lives in Virginia also, but I think he’s in the DC area. How do we distinguish between ineffable experiences when they are described afterward? The language used to describe them is too imprecise to distinguish between a meditation-induced feeling of oneness wholeness, versus a psychedelic experience that might be described using the same words.
Ed Kelly: Well, these are good and difficult questions. I’m not sure how best to answer them, but a guy who is critically important in this connection is Roland Griffiths at Johns Hopkins University. He has just managed to create a whole new center for psychedelic research, I forget the exact title of it, but you can easily find it. In about 2006 he published a replication of what was called the Good Friday experiment, from back in the 60s. And I think that study established, even for people who were skeptical of it previously, that under appropriate conditions real mystical experiences can be had using psychedelics, experiences that are indistinguishable phenomenologically from spontaneous mystical experiences. There’s a lot of literature about this, particularly back in the 60s and 70s, during that time of ferment when Tim Leary was ascendant and giving psychedelics a bad reputation, and basically stimulating some bad legislation that prevented further research on this stuff. There were a number of people back then, particularly from the side of Religious Studies, who took exception to the idea that you could have a genuine mystical experience by swallowing a pill or something of that sort. R. C. Zaehner in particular was one of those. But I think we’re to the point now where, well, it’s probably true that most psychedelic experiences aren’t very profound at all, they’re more superficial sensory and cognitive kinds of stuff. But under the right conditions, real mystical experiences can definitely occur. Now, the other thing I wanted to say immediately in response, and I’m not covering all dimensions of this question, is that the literature of what’s called apophatic mysticism, the negative way, talks about mystical experiences being empty of ordinary kinds of cognition and thinking and so on, the verbal stuff and all that. And in fact, a lot of training for mystical experience involves attempting to eliminate that kind of stuff from what’s normally going on in your experience. But what results when you’re successful in “emptying your mind” is not emptiness, because in these deep mystical experiences of the introverted type in which there’s no contact of any kind with the world outside, but just the one-pointed, introverted consciousness itself, it’s not empty, but strangely full, a vacuum and a plenum. A guy who I think was especially good about that was Walter Stace, when back in 1960 he published his book Mysticism and Philosophy. He took a lot of abuse subsequently from the community of scholars of religion, notably Stephen Katz, who have emphasized differences among traditions in terms of their teachings and so on, and probably their mystical experiences as well. But even though people aren’t able to describe later on exactly what happened, they can kind of point to it, you know, by trying to describe it anyway. Many of these people, you know, say “I can’t possibly describe what happened to me”, but then they go ahead and write a huge book or a series of books anyway. Like Jacob Boehme, a prime example, who wrote I don’t know how many books describing his experience.
Ed Kelly: And we know a good bit about them, in particular, that there’s a whole family of related experiences. Stace was particularly interested in the introverted type because he thought he could argue from that to the basic picture basic, the Brahman and Atman picture that there is ultimately only one consciousness, empty consciousness. He used the argument from indiscernibility. If there’s nothing that can distinguish two experiences, then they’re the same experience, and therefore all experiences of introverted consciousness had to be experiences of a single great consciousness. That’s a breathtaking argument that probably can’t quite hold together. But it may be the truth of the matter. The other big class of mystical experiences, which has been studied less, is the extroverted type in which a world is still present but infused with some sort of unity. This is the “cosmic consciousness” kind of experience described by people like Richard Maurice Bucke and Edward Carpenter. By the way, I wanted to mention here my coeditor, Paul Marshall. You’ll be interested in this, Rick. Paul Marshall is another example of an interesting fact about our Sursem group. We’ve had maybe 50 or so people in this group over the years, and at least eight or 10 of whose entire careers have been shaped by mystical experiences of their own, either from early childhood or more recently. The probability of that happening by chance is essentially zero. So that’s another good example of how these things impact people and shape their lives. Anyway, Paul is another example. He was a physics student at Cambridge, but then had a couple of mystical experiences, one of which in particular really impressed him. And he, I would say, has spent the rest of his life so far (he’s a relatively young guy) trying to figure out what happened to him. One other thing I should say in this context is that I’m part of a group that’s now intensively studying a recent book called Untying the Gordian Knot, by a man named Tim Eastman. Tim is a plasma physicist who worked mainly on space and that sort of stuff in his scientific career. But he starts his book by describing a mystical experience that he had as a young kid living on a farm in northern Minnesota, on a piece of land adjacent to what used to be Lakota Indian territory. This powerful thing happened to him, and he was blown away by it at the time. And I think it’s fair to say that he’s spent the rest of his life when not in his day job trying to figure out what exactly happened. So this book is an attempt to address that question. He is approaching the same kinds of phenomena that we cataloged in Irreducible Mind; for example, he takes psi phenomena seriously and has had a couple of experiences of his own, and of course, takes mystical experiences very seriously as well. And when he talks about creativity, he even appeals to the same case that we did in our chapter on genius in IM, namely Ramanujan, the Indian mathematician, who without any formal training recapitulated practically the entire history of Western math and carried it about a century forward in some areas. But the way Tim goes about it is wow, ever so different from the way we did, because of his background, which is all in physics and math and logic and so on. I had no inkling about any of this stuff, except for a little bit on the physics side. But he pulls together a whole bunch of modern developments in those areas in arguing that we must revise our basic concept of reality in several ways, in particular by acknowledging that there is a whole dimension of reality, normally hidden to us, consisting of what Heisenberg described as potentials, or potentiae, a world of possible things that interacts with the actual world and helps cause the things that do happen to happen. In effect, he elevates the realm of potentiae to ontological parity with the actual.
Ed Kelly: So now Tim’s way and our way of approaching this subject are superficially very different. But what I’m working with him on now and trying to flesh out in more detail concerns possible ways of building bridges between this opening that he creates through his very technical hard-science kind of background, and our way of approaching it through successively more integrated states of consciousness. That was kind of lengthy, but I hope reasonably clear.
Rick Archer: Great. I just wanted to comment on the emptiness fullness thing. A few other points you made. Inner mystical experience could be regarded as empty because it’s devoid of the concrete objects of perception that we usually have. But, when you’re having such an experience, it definitely doesn’t feel empty. There’s a fullness of bliss of expansion, or a sense of omnipresence. There’s sometimes a feeling of knowingness or all-knowingness, and so on. Then, the next thing you said about that external version of that, is I think perhaps usually subsequent to having had enough clear, deep internal experiences such as I just described. What those do to you is eventually infuse into your whole mind-body system such that you begin to see the essential nature of everything all around you, as you interact with it, receive it. Then, that’s where the quality of unity can come in because you can be looking at something and in seeing its essential nature, which is identical to your own essential nature, which you have already explored you find that you and the thing, are one. There’s an experience of unity.
Ed Kelly: I don’t want to be too personal about it. But are you speaking from personal experience here or from reading literature?
Rick Archer: Well, I’ve been meditating for 54 years, a couple hours a day. A lot of it is derived from my personal experience, but I don’t consider that to be complete by any means. I’m a work in progress. But, I’ve had pretty clear tastes of the things I’m saying,
Ed Kelly: Mm-hmm. I envy you. I envy all of my colleagues who have had these kinds of experiences. William James, you know, talked about having a mystical germ, but no real experiences of his own. The closest he got was with nitrous oxide (which Myers tried also, by the way).
Rick Archer: This is better than nitrous oxide, I’m sure. Although laughter can accompany it. Then this other thing you said, forget whether this was from Eastman or not, and ties into Kashmir Shaivism also, is that this foundational level of creation, or reality or consciousness or whatever we want to call it, is definitely not an emptiness because it contains within it the potentialities for the whole universe to manifest. It could really rather be thought of as a field of all possibilities, a phrase a Deepak likes to use, or just a sort of a plenum of energy, intelligence, creativity, which bursts forth as the tremendous variety and complexity of creation.
Ed Kelly: Yeah. Mike Murphy sometimes jokes about how the Ramakrishna Vedanta school is the up and out school, which takes the view that the world we live in is ultimately unreal, and that your job is to get out of here as fast as possible and into the infinite bliss and all that good stuff. Whereas the more tantric wing of Hindu philosophy, which Kashmiri Shaivism really is (and Aurobindo had a lot to do with Mike’s introduction to that whole subject) takes the experienced world as fully real, it’s just that reality in toto is much bigger than just that.
Rick Archer: A lot of these debates can be resolved by looking at life as multi-layered. There’s a dimension at which nothing ever happened, and there’s a dimension at which all kinds of stuff is happening, but it’s perfect just as it is. There’s a dimension at which a lot of things are happening and they’re not perfect and they need to be improved. All those things can be simultaneously true.
Ed Kelly: Yeah, this is where the whole subject gets really puzzling.
Rick Archer: There’s a good corollary with what physics tells us. It seems like an object like this pen is really solid, and then there’s a level at which it’s just molecules, and there’s no evidence of anything pen-like. Then there’s an atomic level of which there’s no evidence of anything molecular, and so on and so forth. You can’t say that just because subatomic particles or quarks and electrons are the ultimate reality that the pen doesn’t exist. In a sense, it doesn’t but at least in an apparent sense, it does. There’s another related question related to Curtis’s question, which a mutual friend of Curtis’ and mine often poses, Tom Christofi, who has been on BatGap. That is, he often argues that, well, let’s say you’re meditating and have an experience of unboundedness and you feel you’ve gotten down to the real nitty-gritty of creation. How do you know that consciousness really is unbounded and extends infinitely and is not confined by your six-foot frame? Or, you’re just having an experience in which it really feels like it’s that, but that’s just being created by your brain? And, it has nothing to do with what consciousness actually is?
Ed Kelly: This gets back to the treatment of mystical experience by contemporary science, which is mostly to ignore it. But among the very few who’ve paid any attention to it, the overwhelming tendency has been to devalue and pathologize it on grounds that it’s just some sort of aberrant brain activity. And that’s all that’s going on. James, you know, in Varieties of Religious Experience, again kind of set the temper for most people’s response to the subject, which is to say that these experiences are typically totally compelling and convincing for those who have them, but they’re not sufficient to compel the rest of us to accept the mystics’ view of things. I think James actually understated the possibilities here for scientifically justifying the underlying metaphysics. For example, in that audience, he was not willing to talk about the relationship between mystical experience and psi phenomena. If your mystical experience tells you that something happened yesterday in a remote location, and that turns out to be true, that’s a piece of evidence that supports the reality and the evidential importance of your mystical experience. Similarly, a lot of the great geniuses of our world traditions have also had mystical experiences that opened them up in some way. These are empirical kinds of findings that support the reality and import of the experiences. And I think that connection remains to be developed much more fully by scientists and historians and scholars of religion. You certainly have to be constantly vigilant, and not presume that that little voice in your head is actually the ultimate reality, preparing you to save suffering humanity from its struggles. There’s quite a big literature of this prophetic or tutelary type of mediumship, you know, emanating from people who believe themselves to have been opened up to teachings about different departments of reality. The Course in Miracles is a recent case in point, but there’s stuff of this sort going way back, a couple of centuries even. And, as you can imagine, it certainly would be very seductive to be told that you are to be the vehicle for communicating these great teachings to the suffering world. And if that sort of thing happens, I think you have to be extremely careful about it. We have to be careful all the time about taking experiences at face value, this is especially true in the world of parapsychology and psychical stuff. As interesting as it is, it’s got about as high or even a higher ratio of noise to signal as subjects like diet and politics, let’s say. So it behooves everyone who gets involved with it to just be very careful and disciplined.
Rick Archer: This point about being the vehicle there’s a nice quote from your book, which to me implies that in a sense, where all the vehicles, or all of us are vehicles. “If the entire universe presses to manifest its latent divinity, then we must share that impetus, which is evident in our desire for the illuminations, self-existent, delight, self-surpassing love, and sense of eternal freedom and identity we experience in our highest moments.” I think this quote was elaboration on evolutionary panentheism that there’s just this divine impulse or trajectory, which I regard as the ultimate driving force between the creation of the universe. Brian Swimme famously said, you leave hydrogen alone for 13 point 7 billion years and you end up with rose bushes, giraffes, and opera. There is just this evolutionary momentum or trajectory or tendency or impulse, which has given rise to greater and greater complexity to the point where beings such as we exist and probably greater than we, who can discuss these things, not only discuss them, but turn around and experience that field of intelligence from which all this has arisen.
Ed Kelly: Yeah. What you quoted comes from Mike Murphy’s final chapter in Beyond Physicalism, where he portrays evolutionary panentheism as what he calls a “stealth worldview” that’s been around for a long time. It’s certainly part of the Southeast Asian philosophical traditions. It was present in Neo-Platonism, picked up by Ficino and company in the early Renaissance, and flourished among the Romantic poets and then the German and British idealists of the 18th and 19th centuries. So it keeps resurfacing, but never yet triumphing. It’s been suppressed again in the modern era with the rise of physicalism. But that’s not because anybody ever proved that it’s an incorrect view of things. It’s just that physicalism seems so successful and has produced lots of goodies for human use. A lot of people mistake those goodies for evidence of the correctness of the physicalist philosophy. That’s where the big mistake crept in. I mean, you know, people like Russell and Moore, who claimed to have refuted idealism, basically said “Hey, we don’t need this stuff; look what else we’ve got that works so well.” That was pretty much the sum and substance of their arguments. But I think we are at the point now where this kind of picture is surfacing again. And very importantly, this time it’s not surfacing purely from the religious and philosophical side, but from the scientific side as well. I think that may turn out to be the decisive kind of added ingredient that allows it to finally get the kind of respect that it deserves as a much better picture of the ultimate nature of things.
Rick Archer: I’ve never been a formal student of the history and philosophy of science, but as I understand it, prior to the advent of the scientific method, there were a lot of weird ideas floating about many of them enforced even with the death penalty by the church. Science was a welcome corrective of that situation in which we could insist upon empirical evidence and collective confirmation of evidence found so it wasn’t just one person’s subjective, arbitrary anecdotal experience. But somehow or other we’ve ended up it seems to me, not we, but the general assumption in the world that science is the be all and end all. It doesn’t get any better than that. If it doesn’t fit into the model of science, it’s not worthy of consideration. But maybe it can get better than that. Or maybe science itself can evolve to be a bigger basket, specifically with the kind of things we’re talking about. Can these realities which apparently can only be explored through deep subjective experience fit within the realm of scientific investigation? Or is subjective experience just too variable because we all have different nervous systems, and we might all be practicing different techniques. I suppose this has been a problem even with psychology. Maybe that’s why BF Skinner held sway for a while with behaviorism. We’re talking about realities that can’t be measured with a physical instrument necessarily. You can measure the correlates of them by EEG or whatever, but you can’t really measure what the person is experiencing. But that doesn’t mean that their experience is unreal or less important or anything. To sum it up, to what extent do you think that the mystical realm, if we want to call it that, can be amenable to the scientific method?
Ed Kelly: I think we can do a lot better than we have so far in terms of scientific study of mysticism. You know, psychology has always existed in the sort of no man’s land between the humanities and hard science. If you go back to the beginnings of behaviorism, William James’s was body was practically still warm when James B. Watson published his behaviorist manifesto. If you go back and read that thing today, it’s astonishing that it had the impact that it did. That became the reigning dogma for the next 50 years in American experimental psychology. I remember sitting in on a class taught by Noam Chomsky in 1964 or 1965 over at MIT on Cartesian linguistics. And somehow in the course of that – and there may be 200 people in the room, of whom maybe six were actually taking the course, while the rest of us were just there to sit at Chomsky’s feet because the guy is absolutely unreal – somebody asked him his opinion of behaviorism. He got real quiet for a moment, and then said something like “In my opinion, the first 50 years of American experimental psychology will go down as a footnote in the history of science”. Wow! We’re talking here about the cumulative activity of thousands of smart people spread over five decades. But he was right; I mean, that’s basically what’s happened since then. And it’s shocking because the whole point of behaviorism was to make consciousness and the inner life unsuitable as subjects for polite scientific conversation, even. But there’s also a big movement now, I should say, stimulated really by the advent of these modern functional neuroimaging techniques, to improve our methods for describing and maybe quantifying or characterizing subjective experience. And I think we are gradually learning how to do those things better. I’m not going to speculate about ultimate limits, but I do believe we can do way better than we have so far in terms of scientific approaches to things like meditation and psychedelic experiences, and to correlate those with what’s going on inside, physiologically. Contrary to what you might think from what you see in the popular literature – you know, pictures of brains with little colored spots in them and all that sort of thing – we are at a point now where the neuroimaging community is really straining to understand what’s important about neural activity in relationship to mental activity, and how to measure all that. There’s an enormous amount of work going on at the frontiers of these disciplines. In my area, for example, EEG research, you might be recording 128 channels of EEG, producing enormous amounts of data. But what do you do with that data? What do you measure in it, that you expect to correlate meaningfully with the subjective mental experience side of things? We’re really just beginning to learn how to do that stuff well. We’re on the steep early part of what’s going to be a long learning curve. But I think a lot more can and will be done along those lines.
Rick Archer: If you could conjecture where the scientific enterprise might be at 100 years from now, or 200 years from now, taking into account both material, measurable things and mystical or spiritual experiences, do you think there will be a merging such that it’s just one body of knowledge with different tools or facets to it? Or do you think there will always be some kind of, what’s the word, schism between the two?
Ed Kelly: I believe we can already glimpse in outline, an improved science-based worldview that accommodates spiritual realities in a meaningful way. And, moreover, makes them accessible, both individually and culturally. I mean, I can’t do better than hope that something of that sort emerges. Because, like I said before, I think we don’t have much time to get this right or we’re going to destroy ourselves and everything else.
Rick Archer: A good question that came in from Ivan Dimitroff. He wants to know, double-slit experiments confirm consciousness effectors in reality. Do you incorporate quantum mechanics in your studies of consciousness?
Ed Kelly: The guy who’s done most with that is Dean Radin, who’s done and published a bunch of double-slit experiments, including some in physics journals.
Rick Archer: He’s been on BatGap, twice.
Ed Kelly: Okay. The other person that I’ve been closest to is Henry Stapp, who’s a distinguished quantum theorist, inventor of S-matrix theory and stuff like that, and who’s very much on board with the kind of picture that I described as emerging at the end of Beyond Physicalism. He’s advanced a picture of the mind-brain interaction which he thinks reconciles a kind of dualistic point of view with quantum mechanics. He’s also very sympathetic privately to the idea of a vast realm of quantum potentials, or potentiae, being thought of as more mental than physical in the traditional sense, and with the idea of a big mind at the basis of all that happens, including both our experience of ourselves as separate individuals and our shared experiences of a surrounding natural world. The latter, after all, has to be accounted for somehow. Let me just move on with this for a moment. The big obstacle to moving toward idealism – certainly for me, and I think for a lot of other people – is an argument you often get from physicalists, even open-minded physicalists who are willing to acknowledge that they are having trouble explaining consciousness. They say something like “OK, it’s true we’re having trouble explaining consciousness; but look, you guys have exactly the opposite problem – you have to explain how matter arises from consciousness”. What I would like to explain here is that that’s not quite right. There’s a subtle but vital asymmetry in the explanatory challenges facing the physicalist and the idealist. What the idealist has to explain is not matter as classically conceived; that’s part of the conceptual system that we elaborated over several centuries to explain various regularities in the world of experience, which it does very well. It’s just that now we’re encountering some things that physicalism seems unable to explain. We know as the most fundamental of all facts, however, that conscious experience exists. What the idealist has to explain is not parts of the conceptual apparatus that we have previously tried to use to explain consciousness and so on, but to explain those regularities of experience for which we invented that apparatus in the first place. I’m not sure I said that very well, but that’s exactly what idealists such as Federico Faggin and Bernardo Kastrup are attempting to do – to understand how it can be that out of a cosmic consciousness comes both us as individuals, and the mostly pretty much the same kind of world that we experience when we’re together. So stay tuned for that.
Rick Archer: I always, you were talking about Vedanta a little while ago and how it seems to have an up and out orientation like, let’s get out here as quickly as possible. Whereas Kashmir Shaivism, kind of honors the material world more. In fact, there’s a quote from your book, I believe, somebody named Lorelai Bernanke. Gupta and his non dual Kashmir Shaivism, similar to Advaita Vedanta, but which takes a tantric or panentheistic turn that more explicitly embraces the everyday world as fully real, and the Sidis as an important part of that world not to be belittled or ignored. As I move through my life, I’m constantly, I guess astonished you could say, by the intelligence that must, that is evident in every little thing. I often use the example, there’s actually a name for this, but if you took all the atoms in a gram of hydrogen and enlarged them to the size of unpopped popcorn kernels, they’d bury the continental United States nine miles deep, and that’s just one gram of hydrogen! We have this whole huge thing, and when you consider what that, the implications of that, every single one of those little atoms is this marvel of functioning that we don’t even fully understand, but it abides by certain laws of nature, and it displays orderliness and so on and so forth. I think the Kashmir Shaivist perspective would be that we are swimming in an ocean of intelligence which thoroughly pervades us, and we and that ocean are one and that it’s sort of too simplistic to write it off as just consciousness, plain vanilla consciousness, but without bringing in the intelligence factor, which you can equate with God if you want to. That’s the stuff that really fascinates me.
Ed Kelly: You know, in the Indian tradition they celebrate the idea of the jivan mukti, a person who has been liberated in this life and become an effective agent for improving things. And certainly in the Catholic tradition there similarly been great saints, mystics like St. Teresa and John of the Cross, who were prodigious engines for getting things done in this world. Maybe if we had a bunch more such people we could start rapidly making improvements in our civilization and the overall state of things.
Rick Archer: Let me look at some of these questions that Dana Sawyer sent in.
Ed Kelly: Hello Dana!
Rick Archer: He’s probably not watching right now, but he’ll watch this later. He’s been on BatGap a couple of times, old friend of mine. We’ve covered some of these. Filter theory, we’ve talked about. Let’s see. Near death experiences, we’ve talked about. Ian Stevenson, past lives. Here’s a good one. Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow, and Stan Grof have all argued that much of the anxiety, neurosis, and depression in our society are directly caused by a frustrated desire to self-actualize, rather than only being due to repressed memories, fears and desires. In other words, we’re all frustrated because we have this incredible latent potential, and we’re not able to realize it or express it. What are your thoughts in that regard?
Ed Kelly: Oh, I do think that’s the right way to think about it. One of the great advantages of the kind of psychological picture that I sketched before, the Myers/James view, is that it clearly implies that we can gain access to these higher potentials by putting ourselves in suitable states. And there’s every reason to believe that we know how to do research of kinds that will let us get better at understanding what those conditions are, and at eliciting them or stabilizing them in people who want to release those potentials. So there’s potentially an enormous applied aspect to this emerging picture, one that I think can be really helpful at many levels going forward. I don’t expect to do much of this myself, because I’m near the end of my own career, but the door is really open now to that kind of work.
Rick Archer: This relates to the notion that they say we use such a small percentage of our full potential, and we’re always blaming external circumstances or people for the shortcomings of life, this politician and that person there, and all. But, if it’s true that we’re only using a fraction of our full potential, then of course the world is going to be full of problems and difficulties. If the understanding that we have tremendous inner potential could be more commonplace and if methods for developing it, or unfolding it could be more commonplace, we would automatically see huge profound fundamental changes in the world.
Ed Kelly: Yeah, of course, that’s been the driving impulse of Mike Murphy and Esalen Institute for 60 years or whatever it is.
Rick Archer: Well, what you were saying earlier about, things seem to be heating up, the younger people and this person here and there, all kinds of people and the psychedelic renaissance and it’s on so many different fronts. Perhaps it gives us reason to be optimistic.
Ed Kelly: Yeah. I do feel very optimistic about the long-term possibilities here if we can keep ourselves going long enough to realize that. And if I may, let me just insert a kind of a self-serving observation here. We urgently need to find a replacement for me as head of our DOPS neuroimaging laboratory. This is my other hat, that we haven’t talked about yet. I sort of bracket the main line of DOPS’s work on two sides, one being this theory stuff we’ve been talking about, which I got pressed into willy-nilly through Esalen and its CTR. But my other main duty is to run this lab, and we’ve chronically been very short-handed. It’s a great facility, but we need people to utilize it who share our views of things and have the relevant capabilities to take over. So anybody out there who hears me say this and wants to inquire about it, please go look on our website. Just Google “DOPS UVA” and you’ll go right there.
Rick Archer: I’ll link to it from your BatGap page.
Ed Kelly: There you can find an elaborate description of the lab itself, as well as the current research program, and the history and rationale for what we’re trying to do. So anybody out there who thinks he or she is up for that, please contact me!
Rick Archer: Great. Do you have like, you said you’re near the end of your career. What kinds of things are you still working on and what would you like to accomplish still?
Ed Kelly: Well, I’d like to carry forward this theory project in the way I was talking about with regard to Tim Eastman, because that potentially combines the extreme technical rigor and sophistication of his approach with the more psychological characteristics of ours. And I sense although I can’t yet articulate, that there are good ways of building bridges between our two approaches. So that’s one thing that’s on the theory side. Then on the experimental side, I’ve long wanted to bring a guy out of retirement, who was, well, this is a person I met very early in my parapsychology career. Hardly a month after I arrived at the Rhine lab, this guy showed up who could do pretty much anything we asked him to do, experimentally. We posted a bunch of papers with him about him at that time, but I’d like to bring him back into the new lab now because we can now do things we could only dream about doing in the old days. And it would be great to have him come back through a spectacular ESP performance and use our new EEG methods to predict success trial by trial in his performance on that test. That would be sort of the grand-slam home run of my career, experimentally speaking.
Rick Archer: You have a chapter in your book entitled Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the Siddhis which you co-wrote with Ian Witcher. I met Ian at the SAND conference, and we sat on the plane next to each other coming home from the conference. How does that fit into this whole conversation we’ve been having and everything you’ve been doing?
Ed Kelly: We portray Sankhya and Yoga in that chapter as steps toward Kashmir Shaivism, a version of Vedanta that takes the actual as experienced as fully real, or at least more real than the Ramakrishna Vedanta guys typically do. There’s a lot of debate about the real degree of difference between Vedanta as conceptualized by Shankara and some later forms including the Kashmiri forms. I don’t profess to be into that in any real depth, but I think the differences are sometimes exaggerated by people who want to plug for Kashmir Shaivism. But in any case, that’s the role that that chapter played in Beyond Physicalism. We chose it, particularly because of Book Three of the Yoga Sutras, which deals explicitly with Siddhis, and tried to make connections between his treatment of the subject there, and various kinds of extreme Siddhis or charisms that occur in the context of Catholic mysticism. I’m not sure how much the audience knows about this, but the making of saints and Catholicism is a really big deal. It was put in a very kind of legalistic framework early on, by the guy who served as devil’s advocate in the proceedings for Joseph of Copertino and later became Pope. Joseph of Copertino was a 17th-century Catholic saint who was observed levitating, not just occasionally and to a slight degree, but dramatically, in broad daylight, on hundreds of occasions, by thousands of witnesses, including skeptical and hostile witnesses who could not deny that what happened, even if they might differ in small details about it. I mean, this guy would sometimes go up 30 yards and stay there for minutes and stuff like that. These are not subtle effects; Michael Jordan, eat your heart out! Anyway, that devil’s advocate guy was a buddy of Voltaire, and he was the one who codified the procedures for these deliberations, which are much like trials in the modern secular sense. For example, they clearly distinguished the quality of witnesses, and of course, people were obliged to testify under oath, which, at that time, in those circumstances, was taken very seriously. Lie about this stuff and you’ll go straight to the nether world when you have the misfortune to die. It’s a body of literature that I take quite seriously. You can’t deny this stuff without denying practically everything about human testimony.
Rick Archer: A friend of mine named Craig Pearson who’s also been on BatGap wrote a book about all the historical accounts of levitation that he could find from around the world. There are dozens and dozens and dozens of them. Of course, modern-day skeptics would just say, well, you know, it’s just fairy tales. It’s the older version of Marvel comics or whatever. It would be really cool if we had at St. Joseph these days who could do that kind of thing because I mean, boy, talk about forcing people to change their paradigm. Physicists and others would have to really scramble to understand how in the heck such a thing could be. Firstly, they’d have to prove that it wasn’t some kind of David Copperfield illusion, but once that was settled, if someone could be seen levitating 30 feet in the air, 30 yards, whatever, and hovering up there, and there was no way it was fake, no wires, no strings. What does that mean about human consciousness? What does that mean about the law of gravity in relation to consciousness? Do the physical laws that govern the universe reside in consciousness in some ways, such that if one could master consciousness adequately, one could command those laws or cause them to behave differently? Interesting.
Ed Kelly: A couple of things here. My friend and colleague Mike Grosso has written two good books about Joseph. One is called The Man Who Could Fly, which summarizes the evidence about Joseph and related things from the mediumistic literature and so on, and also talks about all these issues about the quality of observational evidence and so on. He’s also translated a biography of Joseph that was written in the early 18th century by the son of Bernini, the sculptor, and added a long commentary about that. The other thing I wanted to mention is that just last year sometime I was sent an article by a distinguished historian of the early and medieval church named Carlos Eire at Yale, who totally independently of anything to do with Mike or psychical research wrote a paper called The Good, the Bad, and the Airborne, which is specifically about Joseph, and concludes that “Hey, guys, we’ve got to face up to it; he flew!” Definitely worth reading. It’s much like Mike’s book but in a far more condensed form.
Rick Archer: It’s people who are very busy and are focused in their cubby hole of specialty to just, eh, not even going to spend the time to look at that. Couldn’t be. That’s it. I’ve heard from Dean Radin, very often, he gets that. Well, yeah, what you’re doing couldn’t be true, so I’m not going to look at it.
Ed Kelly: Right. By the way, just to reinforce that point, it was about 2018, I think, that a colleague of ours named Etzel Cardena published a very good paper in American Psychologist (the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association), summarizing several major lines of parapsychology research including new meta-analyses of those, and in the very next issue, supposedly not as a deliberate attempt to respond, there appeared an article written by two psychologists who tried to argue that psychic or psi phenomena cannot occur because they violate the laws of nature. Get this – two psychologists, posing as experts in what physics can allow, and not even acknowledging the fact that a number of very prominent physicists have taken the subject very seriously. That’s kind of what we’re up against, yeah.
Rick Archer: To that, I would say airplanes can’t exist because they violate laws of nature at least as understood way back. It just means we don’t understand the laws of nature well enough.
Ed Kelly: I think it was St. August, somewhere in The City of God, who says something to the effect that miracles occur not in contradiction to nature, but in contradiction to what is known to us of nature.
Rick Archer: If Jesus really walked on water, for instance, I don’t think he violated laws of nature. He just utilized the laws of nature in a different way than we ordinarily can.
Ed Kelly: Yes. One other interesting fact about Joseph, by the way, that ought to be a clue, is that these levitations occurred only in the context of some sort of mystical ecstasy. He could be ecstatic without going up in the air, but he couldn’t go up in the air without being ecstatic. Our physicist Henry Stapp – well, this could get too complicated, but let me try – Henry tried to assimilate Joseph’s levitations initially to his standard theory about how we move our arms and so on, which involves how fast you can issue directives to invoke something called the Quantum Zeno Effect. And his initial idea was that maybe in these ecstatic states, you can just do this much faster than normal and thus generate bigger effects. But he eventually gave up on that approach.
Rick Archer: He wasn’t saying that Cupertino flapped his arms or something.
Ed Kelly: No, mentally wanting to go up in a much more intense kind of way. And that’s what did it.
Rick Archer: I don’t know if he even wanted to. I haven’t read his biography, but I know St. Teresa of Avila also had levitation experiences. She didn’t want to, but she would get into the states where she would just, because she didn’t want to draw attention to herself or anything.
Ed Kelly: Joseph was the same way, but a lot more spontaneous. There’s one funny event Mike Grosso talks about where the Pope or somebody was being visited by some Spanish official who brought his beautiful wife and her train of handmaidens and they were all basically coming to meet Joseph and his superior. Joseph really didn’t want to do that, but his superiors made him do it. He was always very preoccupied with, you know, being careful about interacting with women and that sort of thing. And so this group of gorgeous women is approaching him, and he suddenly lets out one of his famous shrieks of ecstasy and flies over the top of this group, landing on the other side and running off to the safety of his cell. The wife, incidentally, fainted dead away. There’s even a famous painting of this incident.
Rick Archer: That’s really funny.
Ed Kelly: Mike has quite a collection of such things.
Rick Archer: ‘There’s more in Heaven and Earth Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ There’s a lot going on in the world that we don’t collectively appreciate yet, but hopefully, as you say, if we don’t do ourselves in, we will. I got an email from Duane Elgin the other day. Basically, he sent a file that some other guy had written with all the dire circumstances that humanity faces any one of which could do us in, and yet he listed at least a dozen of them. I thought, oh, the poor guy. All those things are true, but if you don’t get that there’s an awakening of consciousness taking place in the world, then all hope is lost. You could easily get depressed and suicidal if you didn’t see that taking place.
Ed Kelly: Yeah, it’s easy to get depressed these days, for sure.
Rick Archer: All right. Well, thanks so much. I could talk to you for another two hours, but I think we probably both need to get to the bathroom. This has been really good, and I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed preparing for it. Keep up the good work and stay in touch. If you feel like in a year or two from now, there’s a whole collection of points that we didn’t cover in this one that you’d like to cover, we can do another one.
Ed Kelly: Sure. And you know, if you have further questions just pass them.
Rick Archer: I will. Alright, so thank you. Thanks to those who’ve been listening or watching, and as you know, this is an ongoing series, you might want to visit the website. There’s an upcoming interviews page that lists all the things we have scheduled.
Ed Kelly: I went there this morning and actually saw that. Looks good!
Rick Archer: Good. There are a bunch of other things. Explore the menus. It exists as an audio podcast if you like to listen to podcasts and a bunch of other things.
Ed Kelly: When I can. Oh, yeah, and please send me the instructions about where to send your A/V gear.
Rick Archer: I will. Alright, everybody, thanks so much. See you for the next one.
Ed Kelly: Thank you.
Rick Archer: Thanks, Ed.